For health efforts in Africa to be successful, policy makers and business leaders must look beyond one-shot programs and think holistically about solutions to deeper systemic problems.
That was the takeaway from the third annual Atlanta Summit on Global Health at the Westin Hotel in Buckhead organized May 19 by the World Affairs Council of Atlanta, CARE USA, and the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The summit over the previous two years focused on specific issues like water and hunger and security, but it was always designed to culminate in this year’s discussion of the overall “unfinished agenda” of health in Africa, according to Wayne Lord, retiring president of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta.
Each event has shown how policy makers, business leaders and governments must collaborate over the long term to have any hope of rooting out the thorniest humanitarian problems facing the continent.
“You can’t just say that a specific intervention worked,” Dr. Lord said. “If you ignore context, then you will fail.”
More than 375 people attended the summit to hear a variety of business leaders and high-level speakers ranging from former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson to John Rice, vice chairman of General
With emerging markets now accounting for more than 60 percent of GE’s annual revenues, the company has had to change its operating paradigm, Mr. Rice said in his keynote speech.
Global companies can no longer focus on extractive growth; instead, they must invest in “sustainable, inclusive development” in the areas where they operate, helping create conditions where the poor can join the ranks of the emerging middle class.
Not only does this create customers, but it also boosts health outcomes, he said.
With more than 2,500 employees already on the continent, GE’s Africa investments also benefit from collaborations with NGOs and local governments, Mr. Rice said.
However, competition between similar organizations can sometimes harm development efforts as a whole, he told Global Atlanta.
“I think there is a legitimate question about whether it is all as well coordinated as it could be,” Mr. Rice said. “It’s awfully hard to figure out what everyone is doing.”
“Sometimes NGOs compete because they want to protect their turfs; they’ve carved out their space and don’t want to share,” Mr. Rice continued. “We have to try and not let that happen because I don’t think that the citizens of the African countries where these activities are taking place are well-served when that happens. “
Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called for more collaboration but noted that directed programs can make a huge difference in the most resource-constrained countries.
He cited the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, which has driven down new HIV infections among newborns by more than a million since it was launched under the administration of President George W. Bush in 2003.
“We’ve seen more progress in the last decade than could be reasonably expected,” said Dr. Frieden, speaking generally about African health work, “but it’s not nearly enough.”
The continent still lacks public-health surveillance infrastructure to track progress toward dealing with emerging and known diseases. It also needs more accessible networks of health clinics with trained, motivated workers, he said.
Beyond the physical needs, he said the global health community faces a psychological challenge: maintaining dogged determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges Africa faces.
To learn more about the summit, visit wacatl.robinson.gsu.edu/summit